My thoughts on the creation of the Premier League Hall of Fame, as well as my thoughts for who the first inductions should be.
Back in February, the Premier League announced their plans to create a Premier League Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame would “recognize and celebrate the exceptional skill and talent of players who have graced the competition since its inception in 1992.” The first two inductees into the Hall of Fame will be announced during a special ceremony on March 19th, while a fan vote will be created to help finish out the remainder of the first ever Premier League Hall of Fame class. According to the release, all eligible players must be retired, and when considering their candidacy, only their Premier League career can be considered.
So I have a few thoughts. For starters, I really like the concept. As an American, I am very familiar with the idea of a hall of fame, with every major American sports league having one, and the status coming with being a hall of fame athlete is incredibly significant. While other Americanizations of the Premier League, including a playoff system to decide the champion and an all-star game, are a bit tacky and unnecessary, I do really like this concept. The Premier League has played host to a laundry list of incredible players, and having one site to view all of them and their career achievements would be very cool.
An interesting question to explore is whether players will be inducted wearing the shirt of a team of their choosing. In the Baseball Hall of Fame in America, inductees are enshrined on plaques showing images of them wearing a baseball cap bearing the logo of one of the teams they played for. The logo on the cap is decided by researchers working for the Hall of Fame, in conjunction with the players, who try to decide where the player “made his most indelible mark” during his career. This would be an interesting discussion for the Premier League, and it could lead to some interesting controversies for certain players. For some players, it is completely obvious. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are obviously going into the Hall of Fame eventually, and they would go in wearing Liverpool and Chelsea shirts, respectively. It becomes more interesting with other players. Does Robin van Persie go in wearing an Arsenal shirt or a Manchester United shirt? Does Cesc Fabregas wear an Arsenal or Chelsea shirt? Would Alan Shearer wear a Newcastle or Blackburn shirt? Which shirt would Jermaine Defoe wear? It is an interesting facet added to the discussions, and the potential of how they could incorporate club colors, either picking one club to enshrine the player with or displaying them at multiple stages of their career with every club they played with, could give the displays some added character.
Now I do have several more questions. Will this be a physical hall of fame or just one in concept? Would it be a physical building in London or Manchester, similar to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for example, or would it just involve a ceremony and being put on a list somewhere? Would there be a requirement about the amount of seasons the player must have played in the Premier League, or would there be a preference for induction to players who spent longer in the league? For example, Luis Suarez was a brilliant player, but he only played for Liverpool for three seasons. Now in those three seasons he won a PFA Player of the Year award and was generally an unbelievable player, but would his limited amount of time in the league restrict his candidacy for the Hall of Fame? Should his limited amount of time in the league restrict his candidacy? I am sure as this hall of fame is being established and we set a precedent for inductees, many of these questions will be answered, but for now, they are worthy questions to ask.
Now there are issues I have with this set up. For starters, I do not like having a purely “Premier League” Hall of Fame. The Premier League has only existed since 1992, it is merely a single nearly 30-year-long era that makes up the 100+ year history of football in England. It seems a bit weird to simply celebrate one era of this long history, especially when we still count club honors won before 1992. Football, after all, was not invented by Sky in 1992. This ties into my second issue, as there is currently already an English Football Hall of Fame, which is ran in conjunction with the National Football Museum in Manchester. While this hall of fame has mostly recognized British and Irish players, it has also recognized important foreign players, including Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, and also recognizes influential male and female players throughout the entire history of professional football in England, not just during the Premier League Era. Expanding this hall of fame into one large, comprehensive hall of fame would probably be the most effective way in actualizing this concept. The final issue I have is the perceived restriction set by the league to only allow players into the hall of fame. Personally, I do not think that players are the only ones who encapsulate the concept of “hall of fame worthy”. Managers should absolutely be included as well. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger would be certain inductees, and names such as Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, and Kenny Dalglish would most likely join them. Those off the football pitch should also be considered for a spot. For example, it would be really fitting and really cool for Martin Tyler to be honored, since his commentary of Aguero’s title-winning goal in 2012 is so synonymous with the Premier League. Limiting entry to only players seems too restrictive.
Ok, you sat through this long post wanting to hear about who I thought should be the first inductees, so now it is time to discuss.
The Premier League announced that the first two inductees will be announced later this month, while the rest of the class would be voted on later this year. Since we do not know the size of the entire class, I will use the approximation of American football and baseball hall of fame classes to say there will be eight first inductees.
The first two honorary inductions into the Premier League Hall of Fame is an incredibly simple decision. The first two will, most likely, be Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer. Thierry Henry was arguably the most talented player to ever play in the Premier League, with his incredible combination of pace, technical ability, and ruthless goalscoring touch setting the world ablaze. He was the crown jewel in the Arsenal Invincibles team, considered to be one of the best teams in league history, and earned his own honors along the way, winning PFA Players’ Player of the Year twice while finishing runner up in the Ballon d’Or race in 2003. Alan Shearer remains the all-time leading scorer in Premier League history. On top of that colossal piece of history, he can add a league title with Blackburn Rovers, three Golden Boots, two PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards, and a third place finish in the Ballon d’or race in 1996. Both of these players are guaranteed to get into the hall of fame in the first class, and I think they are the first two honorary inductees.
The one player who can challenge that claim, and the only added difficulty in this decision, is Ryan Giggs. Giggs was the Premier League’s ever-present fixture, having played in 22 successive Premier League seasons and having made 632 Premier League appearances, a record that has since been surpassed by Gareth Barry. He remains the league’s all time leading assister, having racked up 162 during his career, and the most successful Premier League player ever, having won 13 league titles, all with Manchester United, during his career. His remarkable consistency for nearly two decades was incredible. He is the only other player who can stake a claim at being one of the two first inductees.
The next six inductees are more difficult to decide, and I have tried to consider candidates from the entirety of the Premier League era in order to avoid recency bias. John Terry and Dennis Bergkamp seemed fitting inductees for this first class. John Terry is arguably the best center back in the league’s history. He was a constant at the back for Chelsea, being the leader of the defensive unit that conceded only 15 goals in the 2004/05 season, earning him PFA Player of the Year, and his longevity allowed him to be effective at the back for the Blues for another decade following that incredible season. He was considered maybe the best center back in the world for the latter half of the 2000s, making the FIFIPro World XI for five consecutive seasons. Bergkamp was a fixture in the Arsenal attack for over a decade, forming strong partnerships with fellow club legends Ian Wright and Thierry Henry. He scored plenty of goals during his early days in North London, then adjusted his style of play to become more of a provider for Henry in his later years with the Gunners. His silky-smooth dribbling ability, calmness on the ball, and knack for scoring incredible goals made him a fan favorite, and he was a crucial part of three title-winning Arsenal teams, including the Invincibles. It seems fitting that Bergkamp and Henry go into the Hall of Fame together.
Speaking of fitting that they go into the Hall of Fame together, it makes so much sense for Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Paul Scholes to all go in together. For over a decade, every Premier League fan debated which of these three was the best midfielder in the league. Lampard had a goalscoring ability that has not been seen from many center midfielders since his retirement, becoming synonymous with Chelsea during their golden years and leading them to several league titles and a Champions League title. Steven Gerrard is Mr. Liverpool, playing for the Reds for his entire career, scoring incredibly important goals and being influential in some of Liverpool’s greatest ever moments, including their famous comeback in Istanbul. Paul Scholes was not as active of a goalscorer as his two counterparts, but he was so important to how those mid-2000s Manchester United teams performed. He was a one-man engine room, dominating the midfield and playing the passes that linked the midfield to the attack. What he lacks in stats he makes up for in sheer tangible ability and importance, as well as the amount of trophies he won with United. They are all the three undisputed best center midfielders in Premier League history, and it is probably fair to not enhance debate by separating their inductions.
If I had two honorable mentions, to round out the list to ten players, it would be Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel. Keane is arguably the league’s greatest ever captain, being the talisman in midfield for Manchester United for the latter half of the 1990s into the 2000s. Peter Schmeichel is arguably the league’s best ever goalkeeper, being phenomenal between the posts for United in the 1990s and being considered the best or among the best goalkeepers in the world during that decade.
Picking a first induction class is difficult, especially when I limit myself to only eight players. I recognize I left out several big names. The likes of Keane and Schmeichel, as well as David Beckham, Petr Cech, Rio Ferdinand, Eric Cantona, and Ashley Cole all did not make the cut for me. I’m sorry, it’s a difficult decision to make. Undoubtedly, all of those names above, as well as other big names that I failed to mention, will make the hall of fame eventually, but it is a special distinction to be the first hall of fame class. If there are only eight spots to fill in the first class, I would cast my vote for those eight players. Regardless of outcome, I am excited for the introduction of a Premier League Hall of Fame, and I will be watching closely to see how it is implemented and hope to one day pay the site a visit.